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Elgin teachers ignite lessons about the world

Jordan Duffy raises her torch Parade Nations Illinois Park Center for Early Learning ElgFriday Feb. 14 2014 kick off school's

Jordan Duffy raises her torch in the Parade of Nations at Illinois Park Center for Early Learning in Elgin on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, to kick off the school's Olympic-themed activities for the next couple of weeks. | Suzanne Baker~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2014 6:14AM

ELGIN — Students waved flags and raised their torches high during the opening ceremonies Friday for the Illinois Park Center for Early Learning’s Winter Olympiad.

Friday’s parade of nations kicked off several weeks of activities that include Olympic-style motor skills activities in the gym on Feb. 21 and closing ceremonies Feb. 24.

After a quick parade around the school, students placed the torches they made around an Olympic cauldron set up at the entrance of the school showing that a small flame of an individual can grow to be one big, united fire.

School Principal Apryl Lowe could not have been more thrilled seeing the enthusiasm and excitement on her students’ faces. “This came off so much better than I expected,” Lowe said.

Many of her students are among the most at-risk in the district, so seeing the kids beaming with pride was something special for Lowe.

The idea for incorporating an Olympic theme started as part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports programming. One aspect involves developing a big motor skills event to reward positive behavior. Lowe said creating Olympic-style activities seemed to be a perfect tie — not only for a motor skills event but also as part of the kindergarten and preschool curriculums.

Kindergarten classes are studying about what makes up a community, and the Olympics meshes perfectly with preschool social studies lessons.

While the preschool and kindergarten curriculums are different, the Olympic activities Friday united everyone. “It’s great to see the entire school come together,” Lowe said. “This is the best of what community looks like.”

The Olympic concept ignited the imagination of teachers such as Laura Keating, who planned the opening and closing ceremonies, and got fellow teachers onboard studying about other countries in preparation for the parade of nations.

In teacher Amy Haffner’s preschool class, students learned about dragons and can say hello and wish someone Happy Chinese New Year in Mandarin.

Although no athletes from Madagascar are competing in the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the country was well-represented in Elgin, thanks to Keating’s preschool class.

When choosing a country to study, her students picked Madagascar, mostly because they like the movie, Keating said. They are preschoolers, of course, and their concept of the world focuses greatly on what they see on television and in the movies.

After learning about the animals that are native to the country, her students then were tasked to choose a mascot. They chose the aye-aye, a nocturnal member of the lemur family.

“It’s not the cutest mascot,” Keating said. “I think the kids just like just liked shouting, ‘Aye-aye.’ ”

Lowe said the lessons and even the parade are invaluable because the kids could visualize how they fit in the global perspective.

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